BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Friday that the Cabinet’s decision to abolish wanted lists – made up of individuals named by informant tip-offs – does not deprive security apparatuses of the power to draw new lists in closer coordination with the judicial authorities.
“Obviously there was a misunderstanding of the decision which scraps existing lists, but does not eliminate the prerogative [to draw new lists] which we need to redraft in a more accurate manner with the public prosecutor’s office,” Machnouk told a news conference at the Interior Ministry after chairing a special meeting for the Central Security Council.
“The decision restores the judicial authorities’ rights to perform their role in this regard.”
The Cabinet decision to abolish the current lists, dating back to the period when Lebanon was under Syrian tutelage, was largely aimed at easing the grievances of Sunnis following a spate of arrests in the security clampdown on Tripoli.
Many people were arrested based on these lists without authorization by the judiciary.
“The prosecution will take legal action to purge the lists from names of individuals who should not be there and retain the names of those who have warrants,” Machnouk said.
He added that any names of people that have been proven to have collaborated with Israel would also remain on the lists.
The minister explained that most of the scrapped lists, which included around 60,000 names, were inaccurate and unjustified.
He said that those whose names were on the list were unjustly denied from leaving Lebanon.
Machnouk stressed that the decision did not aim at limiting the intelligence capabilities of the Army and other security services.
An adviser to Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi explained to The Daily Star that while the names currently on the list were being abolished, the procedure which gathered them remained in force.
“The Cabinet decision scraps lists made until July 24, 2014, it does not abolish the procedure which remains in force,” said Judge Mohammad Saab.
“It basically eliminates the files of 1,000 individuals rounded up in Tripoli’s security plan, and whose arrests under this procedure have fuelled grievances, jeopardizing the city’s stability and security, recovered after months of sectarian fighting,” Saab said.
He added that the Cabinet decision also stipulated a review of the mechanism adopted to draw the wanted lists, in order to give the judiciary an upper hand and greater control over the arrests. “The aim is to draw a new mechanism to regulate the procedure, to rely more on credible information and judicial measures, and at the same time reduce the risks of arbitrary arrests,” Saab said.
Asked how the Cabinet decision would translate on the ground, Saab said he expected a large majority of those featured on the lists to be released after being found innocent, while only those with solid evidence of incrimination will be retained by judicial order.
Swiping these names off the lists meets a key demand of protesters angry about a crackdown authorities launched in Tripoli in April to restore law and order following several rounds of sectarian fighting over the crisis in Syria. Security agencies apprehended hundreds of suspects based on the lists, while few arrests were based on judiciary warrants.
The move is expected to defuse tension in Lebanon’s second-largest city, where protesters over the past few months have accused security services of conducting arbitrary detentions that target the Sunni community. This they say is in direct contrast to security forces’ policy toward Hezbollah, which has ben playing a military role in Syria alongside Assad’s forces.
The lists first emerged during Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, when security agencies would collect information about individuals via informants. The lists primarily targeted suspected Israeli collaborators and spies, as well as opponents of the Syrian government.
“This procedure, which was introduced under Syrian tutelage back in 1990, was meant to muzzle anti-Syria rhetoric in Lebanon, and was used as a blackmailing tool against senior government employees and officials,” security sources told The Daily Star.
“It is a major step to restore legitimate judicial control over arrests, which were previously done arbitrarily under the cover of national security,” the source added.
The move was strongly applauded by Future Movement officials as a way breaking free from the remnants of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon.
“The decision to cancel the wanted lists is a great achievement which means the Lebanese can now express their minds freely and in all transparency,” said Future Movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri.
Machnouk said that the fact that the decision was unanimously approved indicated a national will to erase the trace of Syria’s tutelage.
The minister said that the council approved precautionary security measures to be taken during Eid al-Fitr prayers.